The Ambassadors By Henry James Book 5: Chapter I

"Any moral," little Bilham explained, watching serenely, across the garden, the several femmes du monde. "But Miss Barrace has a moral distinction," he kindly continued; speaking as if for Strether's benefit not less than for her own.

"HAVE you?" Strether, scarce knowing what he was about, asked of her almost eagerly.

"Oh not a distinction" — she was mightily amused at his tone — "Mr. Bilham's too good. But I think I may say a sufficiency. Yes, a sufficiency. Have you supposed strange things of me?" — and she fixed him again, through all her tortoise-shell, with the droll interest of it. "You ARE all indeed wonderful. I should awfully disappoint you. I do take my stand on my sufficiency. But I know, I confess," she went on, "strange people. I don't know how it happens; I don't do it on purpose; it seems to be my doom — as if I were always one of their habits: it's wonderful! I dare say moreover," she pursued with an interested gravity, "that I do, that we all do here, run too much to mere eye. But how can it be helped? We're all looking at each other — and in the light of Paris one sees what things resemble. That's what the light of Paris seems always to show. It's the fault of the light of Paris — dear old light!"

"Dear old Paris!" little Bilham echoed.

"Everything, every one shows," Miss Barrace went on.

"But for what they really are?" Strether asked.

"Oh I like your Boston 'reallys'! But sometimes — yes."

"Dear old Paris then!" Strether resignedly sighed while for a moment they looked at each other. Then he broke out: "Does Madame de Vionnet do that? I mean really show for what she is?"

Her answer was prompt. "She's charming. She's perfect."

"Then why did you a minute ago say 'Oh, oh, oh!' at her name?"

She easily remembered. "Why just because — ! She's wonderful."

"Ah she too?" — Strether had almost a groan.

But Miss Barrace had meanwhile perceived relief. "Why not put your question straight to the person who can answer it best?"

"No," said little Bilham; "don't put any question; wait, rather — it will be much more fun — to judge for yourself. He has come to take you to her."

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